Buck (2011)

Content by Tony Macklin. Originally published on July 4, 2011 @ tonymacklin.net.

If I were a young colt, I'd sure try to keep my distance from Buck Brannaman.

Brannaman is the main figure in the documentary Buck, about a horse teacher who is able to accomplish wonders with difficult young horses.

He's also got a serious antipathy to studs. Buck says, "Nobody should have a stud horse." They can't be controlled.

Maybe it's because he has three daughters and no sons, although he calls Reata -- one daughter -- "buddy."

He looks askance at a female owner who has 18 stud horses and brings her to tears.

While he keeps saying to a trainer, "Pet him. Pet him," he's probably thinking cut him, cut him.

When he's not pushing for gelding, Buck appears to be a wonderful teacher of young horses. He gives clinics across the country, winning converts and disciples.

Having survived a cruel childhood of abuse, Buck -- now in his middle-age -- has built a positive life of empathy with horses. He is both sensitive and rational. He effectively relates his treatment of balky horses to dealing with children.

"There's a difference between firm and hard," he explains to an audience.

Several members of his audiences are disciples whose understanding of horses came from Buck. As one woman says, "Horsemanship becomes a way of life."

Buck says, of mentor Roy Hunt, "The horse was an extension of him. A beautiful dance."

Cindy Meehl directed the documentary which won an award at Sundance. Not surprisingly, it features Robert Redford, who used Buck as advisor and double on The Horse Whisperer (1997).

In Buck, Meehl captures a man who has dignity, a certain grace, and is self-effacing. He looks a lot like a younger Geoffrey Palmer.

Fortunately, Meehl does not just sanctify her subject. Reata says of driving with her dad that he's, "kind of like the traveler Nazi." [It's a comment that would get her fired if Steven Spielberg was producer as was the fate of Megan Fox of Transformers.]

We do wonder why Buck's brother, who also was victimized by their father, gets such little attention.

Meehl makes a wise choice in keeping Buck from being contrived and just a feel-good experience. She keeps it authentic and human.

The movie has its moments of uplift, but there is a failure near the end that may distress a few audience members. But it is real.

Buck sees horses as a reflection of humanity. It is a compelling vision.

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